The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (540A) Private Leslie George Bursill, 5 Battalion, First World War

Accession Number PAFU2014/006.01
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 6 January 2014
Access Open
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use
Description

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (540A) Private Leslie George Bursill, 5 Battalion, First World War.

Speech transcript

540A Private Leslie George Bursill, 5th Battalion
KIA 16 June 1918
Photograph: P06303.001

Story delivered 6 January 2014

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Leslie George Bursill.

Leslie Bursill was born in Maryborough, Victoria. Little is known of his early life, but he was working as a labourer when he enlisted in 1916. At some point after his enlistment he married Irene Matilda Ruby Dodds, known as Ruby. After a period of training in Australia he was posted to II ANZAC Cyclist Battalion and left for overseas service.

Bursill arrived in England in November 1916 and after a short period was transferred to reinforce the 5th Battalion as an infantryman. This battalion had just finished fighting at the Hindenburg Line near Bullecourt, and was enjoying a brief rest when Bursill joined them in May 1917. He continued to serve with them inconspicuously for the rest of the year.

In early April 1918 the Germans launched the second part of their Spring Offensive around Ypres. The 5th Battalion was among the units that halted the German advance at Hazebrouck and repelled another German attack a week later. On 24 April Bursill volunteered to go out and observe the enemy from an old enemy post 100 yards into no-man's land. He had to go through the barrage and remain in his post observing until relieved. For this action he was recommended for the Military Medal, although it was not ultimately awarded.

On the morning of 16 June 1918 Bursill was part of a four-man reconnaissance patrol of the German positions at Strazeele near Hazebrouck in northern France. Bursill is believed to have been wounded near the German lines, taking cover in a shell hole. When his companions went back for him, he had disappeared. Exactly what happened to Leslie Bursill is not clear. Some reports state that a bomb fell in the hole he was sheltering in, killing him instantly. However, as Bursill was an enthusiastic souvenir collector, during the raid he was dressed in all sorts of things he had taken from German prisoners, including boots and a waistcoat, and he was carrying a German revolver. Some reports suggest that because of this he may have been killed as a spy.

Whatever his fate, Private Leslie Bursill was never seen again. Initial hopes that he had been taken prisoner proved false, and a court of inquiry determined that he was
one of the 23,000 Australian dead from the First World War with no known grave. He left a wife and a new-born daughter whom he had never met.

Leslie Bursill's name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, along with more than 60,000 others from the First World War. His photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private Leslie George Bursill, and all of those Australians who have given their lives in service of our nation.

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (540A) Private Leslie George Bursill, 5 Battalion, First World War (video)